Concha y Toro with Marcelo Papa
Just on my way back home from a dinner with a small group of journalists hosted by Concha y Toro winemaker Marcelo Papa. It was held at Le Cercle restaurant (Sloane Square), in a stunning private room that at one end overlooked the rest of the dining room a floor below. It was a stroke of genius on the part of the restaurant to put a private room in this position – you don't feel like you are separated off from the rest of the restaurant (which can happen with private rooms), but you still feel superior!
We tasted and drank through a range of the 2007 Casillero del Diablo wines, plus the latest wines from the more-upmarket Maycas de Limari range.
Now Concha y Toro is the largest Chilean wine producer. They sell 3 million cases of Casillero del Diablo wines worldwide. They also sell a huge quantity of the cheaper brands Frontera and Sunrise (which, incidentally, is one of the top 10 lines in Waitrose).
Of the big companies, I can't think of many who manage to combine these sorts of volumes with such admirable quality. The Casillero del Diablo wines are all really good. Yes, they are accessible and show quite sweet fruit profiles, but they taste of the grape varieties they are made of. And the Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Malbec are particularly impressive wines, punching well above their weight. The Pinot is good; the Shiraz is tasty in a sweet, new world style.
I'm a big fan of the Maycas de Limari wines. They're more expensive, at UK retail £10.99, but they justify the price tag. The Sauvignon is green and minerally, with a distinctive personality, but to my palate falls a little short of the excellent Chardonnay, which is amazingly fresh. The Syrah is probably the star of the range, with a lovely fresh, violetty, peppery nose that leads to a smooth, sweet palate. One of Chile's best. The Cabernet is full and bright with pure blackcurranty fruit.
What about the food at Le Cercle? Excellent - but the menu, consisting of 11 small courses, left me wanting a little less diversity and a little more focus. It's a bit like a wine tasting – sometimes you want lots of small samples of many different wines, but there comes a point where you just want a glass of wine to drink. Having said this, the kitchen put in a pretty flawless performance.
We ended the evening with a vigorous discussion of icon wines and the Berlin tasting. It was an enjoyable night.